Luke 14:1, 7-14
14 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to sare a meal in the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees, they were watching him closely.
7 When Jesus noticed how the guests sought out the best seats at the table, he told them a parable. 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding celebration, don’t take your seat in the place of honor. Someone more highly regarded than you could have been invited
by your host. 9 The host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give your seat to this other person.’ Embarrassed, you will take your seat in the least important place. 10 Instead, when you receive an invitation, go and sit in the least important place. When your host approaches you, he will say, ‘Friend, move up here to a better seat.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. 11 All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
12 Then Jesus said to the person who had invited him, “When you host
a lunch or dinner, don’t invite your friends, your brothers and sisters, your relatives, or rich neighbors. If you do, they will invite you in return and that will be your reward. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind. 14 And you will b
e blessed because they can’t repay you. Instead, you will be repaid when the just are resurrected.”
Friends, these are Holy Words. Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Please pray with me. “Now, O God, take my lips and speak through them; Take our minds and think through them; Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love. Amen.”
Sermon: Last week, as I was reflecting upon this morning’s Gospel lesson from Luke, a movie came to mind. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. I know, I’m worse than the mall, school hasn’t even started and I’m talking about Christmas! How many of you have seen the movie? Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, is infected with the Christmas spirit and goes all out, and then some, in hopes of making the coming Chri
stmas the very best Griswold Family Christmas ever.
Clark runs into some terrible luck and makes some really stupid decisions as he prepares for Christmas, such as putting thousands of Christmas lights on his house, so many so that when he finally plugs them in he causes a town wide power outage. The dumbest thing Clark does, however, is ignore the advice of his wife Ellen when she tells him not to invite their eccentric extended family to join them for Christmas dinner.
When the extended family arrives, Clark’s aunt brings her cat. Upon chewing the Christmas tree lights the cat is electrocuted to a crisp. Clark’s uncle lights his cigar and unconsciously dispenses the match in the Christmas tree, causing it to go up in flames. Worst of all, Clark’s uncouth Cousin Eddie makes a surprise visit with his family and their dog Snots. Uncle Eddie and his family are dirty, poor, uneducated, and annoying. Staying in an RV parked in front of Clark’s house, not only do they think nothing of dumping their waste down the storm drain when it gets full, there is also nothing Uncle Eddie does that goes well. Clark thought his aunt and uncle were terrible guests, and he was right, but Uncle Eddie is clearly the worst guest ever!
In our Gospel story for this morning, Jesus is invited to a meal at the home of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. This information is enough to cause us to pause. We are most accustomed to Jesus calling out the Pharisees as examples of how not to be, and how not to act. It was only in last week’s Gospel story, in fact, that the Pharisees got themselves so tangled up in rules and the laws that they couldn’t understand the compassion Jesus had for the crippled woman he healed on the Sabbath.
Maybe it’s a case of the Pharisees keeping their friends close and their enemies closer, but in this morning’s story, in an act of surprising hospitality, the Pharisees invite Jesus over for a meal. It is Jesus, on the other hand, who turns out to be an incredibly rude dinner guest.
If we are to understand just how rude Jesus was at this dinner party, it is important for us to take a moment and look closely at a few of the meal customs in Jesus’ time. Dinner parties were more than an occasion for family to come together or friends with like interests to get together to share a meal and good company. These were also occasions to show off social status. Who was invited, where and with whom one sat, and what one was fed indicated where one stood on the social latter.
Dinner parties like the one in our Gospel lesson this morning most likely had a guest list that included folks from different levels of affluence and influence. The guests could tell who was at the top of the popularity charts by who got the best seats in the house. The more important the guest, the closer that guest sat to the host. And guests were fed either the most expensive and exquisite food in the house or a cheaper, more ordinary meal, depending on their status.
Jesus, of course, understood such dinner party customs to be preposterous, and in our Gospel story this morning we find Jesus, as a guest at a dinner party, calling out the guests and the hosts. Jesus warns the guests and the hosts that their system of determining who is invited, who should sit at the most and least prominent places, and who should have the highest and lowest quality food, is not the way of the Lord.
In Jesus’ eyes, there should be no jockeying for position among the guests, and the hosts should have invited people they never would have imagined inviting. The poor, crippled, lame and blind. Those with nothing left to lose. Those who are hard to take care of and need a lot of help. Those who think differently and act differently than they do. Those who have no social currency. Those who have no way to repay. Those who will most likely not be the life of the party.
The actions of Jesus at this dinner party are in some ways like a wedding guest approaching a bride and groom at their wedding reception to tell them about the people they left off the guest list and that the seating arrangements are out of order. Like Uncle Eddie, Jesus was the worst guest ever.
I wonder what it would be like if we were to invite Jesus to one of our dinner parties? What if Jesus were to come to a meal with invited guests at our house this weekend or next? What do you think he would say to us?
In some ways, I imagine Jesus might pat us on the back. After all, we wouldn’t ask a guest of ours to make his or her way to a different or lower place at the table because of their social status. Also, I’m rather certain that the food served at the head of the table would be the same food served to all. In fact, I am sure that most of you would go the extra mile by asking if one of your guests has a food allergy. If so, you would take particular care in your preparation, or even make a special dish out of respect for that person, I know you would.
While I am willing to bet that all of us would treat our guests equally once they arrived, I do wonder if our guest list would include everyone Jesus hoped it would include. While our social divisions may not be as overt as they were for the guests and hosts at Jesus’ dinner party, we too have similar divides, which we maintain by who we do and do not invite into our lives.
I came across some statistics that I find to be absolutely fascinating when it comes to our interactions across racial, religious and political divides as Americans. I’d like to share them with you…
- According to a survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 75% of white Americans report that the network of people with whom they discuss important matters is entirely white, with no minority presence. 65% of black Americans report having a core social network that is composed entirely of people who are also black. And 46% of Hispanics report that their social network includes only other people who also identify as Hispanic.
- A differing poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute pole found that 52% of U.S. adults do not personally know at least one person who is Muslim.
- And a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that just 25% of voters who support Donald Trump in the general election say they have a lot or some close friends who are supporters of Hillary Clinton, and 18% percent of Hillary Clinton supports said they have at least some friends who support Donald Trump. Nearly half of Clinton supports, 47%, and 31% of Trump supports, say they have no close friends who support the opposing candidate.
These statistics indicate the obvious: We do not interact with people who are not like us enough. No wonder we have such sharp racial, religious and political divides in our country.
For me, the most interesting information gathered in these surveys was not these statistics, but something I came across that was tucked away in a paragraph at the bottom of one of the reports. Maybe that’s because it seems obvious, but it also needs to be pointed out. The Public Religion and Religion Research Institute found that Americans who interacted with a member of a different group tended to relate that group more positively. This makes me wonder, could part of Jesus’ reason for calling out the guests and the hosts on their social division at that dinner party come from his understanding of the benefits that result in interacting with people who exist on different places within the social spectrum?
Maybe some of you saw this video on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal this past week, it was viewed on social media more than 1 million times. A white gentleman from North Carolina called in seeking some heartfelt advice. He admitted to the show’s African American guest, Heather McGhee, that he feared black people and he wanted to change that. The man was extremely thoughtful about the internal struggle he felt, you could hear the humility in his voice.
The gentleman started by saying, “I was hoping you could help me change my mind about some things. I’m a white male, and I am prejudiced. And the reason it is something I wasn’t taught but it’s kind of something that I learned. When I open up the papers, I get very discouraged at what young black males are doing to each other, and the crime rate. I understand that they live in an environment with a lot of drugs – you have to get money for drugs – and it is a deep issue that goes beyond that. But when, I have these different fears, and I don’t want my fears to come true. You know, so I try to avoid that, and I come off as being prejudiced, but I just have fears. I don’t like to be forced to like people. I like to be led to like people through example. What can I do to change? You know, to be a better American?”
Visibly moved, McGhee simply absorbed the caller’s question in the video that has now been viewed more than 1 million times. She was grateful for his humility. “Thank you so much for being honest and for opening up this conversation,” she responded. She went on to tell him that people of all races and backgrounds hold such prejudices, some unconsciously, so for him to be able to say it outright, was one of the most powerful things that anybody can do right now in this moment in history.
She then offered him some ideas for how he could begin to allay those fears. She urged him to get to know black families, to not form opinions about people of color from the evenings news, to join a black church if he’s religious, to read the rich history of the African American community, and to start conversations within his own community about race. Like Jesus at the dinner party, she encouraged him to challenge his own social structure.
This gentleman who called into that show did so having looked squarely in the mirror, and I think that’s exactly what our Gospel lesson for this morning is getting at. Let’s be honest, each of us carries with us stereotypes. I know I do, I know you do, too. Racism, for example, has been a part of our nation since it’s founding. Our founding fathers owned slaves. Racism is in the water and we have been poisoned by it. While we know that most Muslims are peace loving people and that only the tiniest percentage of Muslims are part of terrorist groups, it is okay to admit if you are sometimes fearful of Muslims. And while we struggle to like that Aunt or Uncle or son or daughter-in-law of ours who is in the other political party, it is okay to admit that sitting next to them at Thanksgiving is tough. What we must do, in all of these circumstances, is in humility admit our fears, and then seek understanding.
This week, for many of us, our children, youth and young adults will go back to school. For those who have worked throughout the summer, or are retired, I imagine your schedule gets a little more solidified now as well. And so I wonder, in this time of fresh starts, what it would be like to take this Gospel story into our lives as we embark upon this new school year.
What would it be like to reach out and befriend someone of a different race? What it be like to get to know someone of a different religion? What would it be like to have a calm and respectful conversation with someone who sees politics differently? What would it be like for the senior to hang out with the freshman? What would it be like, for you who work each day, to go to lunch with someone new and different? What would it be like, for you stay at home mom’s to go on a play date with someone from a different town? What would it be like for all of us to make an effort to get to know someone completely different from ourselves?
Our Hebrews passage for this morning contains some of my favorite verses in all the Bible, and I imagine some of yours, too. “Stay on good terms with each other, held together by love. Be ready with a meal or a bed when it’s needed. Why, some have extended hospitality to angels without ever knowing it!”
Jesus may have been the worst guest ever, but we would be better for following his advice. For we never know what God will do when we expand our guest list and sit assume new places at the table. May it be so.
“182: Proper 17C (August 28, 2016).” Pulpit Fiction. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
“A C-SPAN Caller Asked a Black Guest How to Stop Being Prejudiced. Here’s How She Responded.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
Bartlett, David L, and Barbara B. Taylor. Feasting on the Word. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. Print.
Culpepper, Alan R. The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Volume IX: Luke John. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995.
Lipka, Michael. “Muslims and Islam: Key Findings in the U.S. and around the World.” Pew Research Center RSS. N.p., 22 July 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
Maniam, Shiva. “Few Clinton or Trump Supporters Have Close Friends in the Other Camp.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press RSS. N.p., 03 Aug. 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.
Swanson, Emily. “Do Most White Americans Really Only Have White Friends? Let’s Take A Closer Look.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.